It’s 1 p.m. and another cyclist has blown through the stop sign at the four-way stop near the Teton County Fairgrounds.
Over three hours, Jackson police officer Elijah Mattson returns to this Flat Creek Drive intersection again and again because it’s unfortunately fruitful for cycling infractions.
“Snow King Avenue is particularly notorious,” Mattson said. “The bollards do a great job keeping people in their lanes, but at the intersection it’s dangerous. A common problem is people running stop signs.”
Like clockwork, as he’s approaching the four-way, Mattson turns on his lights and stops a female cyclist in her 60s. She’s visibly agitated. She hollers to Mattson as soon as he exits his vehicle.
“I paused!” the woman yells. “There was no one there!”
“Even if there’s no one at the intersection, you still need to stop,” Mattson replies calmly. “Just as you would in a car.”
The interaction lasts a couple minutes. The woman calms, and as it comes to a close, the woman thanks Mattson and encourages him to “keep stopping cyclists.”
Her wish comes true. Mattson stopped two other cyclists that day for failing to stop at stop signs.
One was Jackson resident Cameron Taylor, who failed to stop on Broadway near Persephone.
“I’ve been biking my whole life,” Taylor told the News&Guide during his traffic stop, visibly shocked. “I’ve never been pulled over on a bike.”
Mattson educates Taylor and gives him a warning. He cycles on toward St. John’s Health, avoiding what could have been a $150 citation.
Tire-d locals lament
Cycling in Jackson isn’t always so painless. Just ask Lisa Smith-Batchen.
Smith-Batchen is a massage therapist and athlete. She’s done 12 Ironman competitions and started the Jackson Hole Marathon with her husband, Jay Batchen.
Some friends recently invited her onto the Spring Creek team for LOTOJA, a 200-plus-mile bike race from Logan, Utah, to Jackson, ending in Teton Village. She figured the race would be a cool way to ring in her 62nd birthday in September.
On July 3 she was cycling for her second training session of the day.
“I rode from Rafter J to Red Top Meadows,” Smith-Batchen said. “I then met my friend, Sara, in Wilson to have a nice, casual bike ride.”
The two rode to Teton Village on what was an especially heavily trafficked day over the Independence Day weekend. The two observed riders with earbuds, others talking on the phone, as well as some other dangerous behavior.
“I couldn’t believe how many people were not saying anything when they passed, people weren’t wearing helmets, there was no bell ringing,” Smith-Batchen said. “That was our conversation that day, ‘Someone’s going to get hurt out here.’”
Smith-Batchen’s premonition was correct. On her way home while pedaling single-file behind Sara past Emilys Pond, a shirtless e-biker clipped her shoulder while passing her.
“I didn’t even know he was coming; there was no word,” Smith-Batchen said. “He clipped my right shoulder with his left shoulder, my handlebars tucked under me, my back wheel hit Sara’s back wheel.”
She landed hard. She now has a torn rotator cuff in her left shoulder and a chipped bone in her right hand, as well as bone bruising from the collision. She can’t move her left arm much at all.
“I’m a massage therapist and I can’t use my left arm or my right hand,” Smith-Batchen said. “It puts you out of work.”
The college-age man didn’t stop, Smith-Batchen said.
Timothy Hoff, owner of Hoff’s Bikesmith, has another hair-raising story.
“My wife got run off the road when she was eight months pregnant by a kid on a Rad Power Bike,” Hoff recalled, noting a popular e-bike brand due to its relative affordability to other e-bikes.
Hoff said the crash happened two and a half years ago just past Stilson on the way to Wilson.
His wife, who was pregnant with twins at the time, was luckily an experienced rider and avoided injury. The kid who ran her off the road was about 9 or 10 years old, Hoff said. The kid didn’t stop.
“He was just out of control,” Hoff said. “I feel really strongly that we have a ginormous problem with too young of people on e-bikes.”
Hoff himself cycles from Hoback to his town shop, where he sells and rents only pedal-assist e-bikes in his own bike shop. He’s talked prospective riders out of e-bikes if their skills don’t pass muster on the test ride.
Another well-known name in the Jackson cycling world is Sharene Garaman. Sharene is the sister of Russ, the namesake of Garaman Park, a popular park adjacent to the pathways system and Flat Creek.
Garaman said she too was intimidated while walking at her brother’s park at the end of May.
“I had to step off the path three times with my little dog,” Garaman said. “I didn’t think it was safe with the e-bikes whizzing by. I didn’t feel safe. That’s not what my brother envisioned.”
A call for edicts on e-bikes
The growing popularity of e-bikes, which travel at speeds up to 28 mph, seem anecdotally to have led to an increase in accidents, but data was unavailable to substantiate it.
“E-bikes are becoming more common in general,” said Dr. Albert Wheeler, an emergency medicine physician at St. John’s Medical Center. “We’re seeing more bike injuries than we used to, and they’re happening at a higher rate of speed, so injuries tend to be more severe because of that.”
Common injuries Wheeler sees include head injuries and fractures, he said.
Smith-Batchen recalled her friend’s son, who had to get brain surgery last winter when he ran into the back of a truck on his e-bike.
“He’s OK now, but they had to airlift him to Salt Lake City,” Smith-Batchen said.
Despite anecdotal examples, St. John’s Health was unable to provide data on bike-related intakes over the years.
“During the main part of summer, we don’t go a day without seeing a bike accident,” Wheeler said. “June through September is a busy trauma season.”
Jackson Police Department was also unable to provide accurate data on call-outs for bike accidents.
“I’d say the accidents we see are fairly split between e-bikes and pedal,” Mattson said.
Sgt. Phillip Smith found four events involving bike collisions this summer, mostly between bicycles and car doors.
“I know we’re missing stuff in there,” Smith said. “It does not appear from what I found that there’s been an increase in bike collisions.”
According to Friends of Pathways, Teton County has 65 miles of pathways. Class 1, 2 and 3 e-bikes are allowed on the paths. Class 4 e-bikes, which travel 28 mph and over, are not permitted.
For the e-bike neophytes, a class 1 e-bike has pedal assist only, no throttle and tops off at 20 mph. A class 2 e-bike features a throttle and maxes out at 20 mph. A class 3 e-bike features pedal assist only and tops off at 28 mph.
Pedal assist describes an e-bike whose drive system is activated only when you start pedaling.
E-bikes have become pathway mainstays and there’s no sign that’s slowing.
“E-bikes are going to be about 60% of the market soon,” Hoff said. “We’re a couple years behind Europe, and in Europe they’re about 70% of the market now.
“It’s a very common conversation in my store, cyclists who are getting run off the road, no bell ringing, multiple kids on the back of one of these cargo bikes with someone who doesn’t have control to handle that weight and they’re on their phones,” Hoff said. “The subject is brought up every other day by locals.”
Ongoing efforts for safety
The outcry of community members is being heard by officials.
Speed limits are being imposed through a combined effort between Friends of Pathways stakeholders, Chief of Police Michelle Weber and the Town Council.
“The most common complaint I get these days is concern about the speed of users on the pathway,” said Brian Schilling, the pathways coordinator for Teton County and the town of Jackson. “Both e-bike and pedal.”
Schilling met with Friends of Pathways members as well as Chief Weber on July 20 to put a proposed map together of speed-reduced areas in town limits.
The areas have not yet been finalized, but Schilling said that the proposal includes 15 mph within the town limits with a couple 10 mph slow zones through Garaman Park and near the ballfields.
“Probably within the next month we’ll have speed signs posted,” Schilling said.
Jackson police officers will patrol the areas and enforce the speed limits, Schilling said.
“We’re also looking at physical features on pathways to discourage speeding through slow zones,” Schilling said.
Sam Petri, communications and advocacy director for Friends of Pathways, emphasized the importance of education.
“We now have that good infrastructure so now we need to have a pathway network that people feel is safe to go on,” Petri said. “Then you need to have education which is constant. I think people forget maybe how new our network is.”
Some of those education efforts include the “How We Roll Jackson Hole” campaign the organization launched last year, which outlined five basic points of etiquette. These five pointers have been summarized in the News&Guide sidebar printed above.
Pathways also hands out free safety gear.
“We’ve given out 400 bells already this summer,” Petri said. “And over 200 bike lights for front and back. Anyone can come to our office and get these items. If you don’t have lights, use a headlamp.”
Hot on the heels of the first-annual bike safety assembly held June 10 for eighth graders, Friends of Pathways is also creating bike safety curriculum to integrate into the physical education classes of middle school and high school students. He anticipates it will be integrated into schools in the spring.
There’s still frustration
Still, community members feel frustrated and would like to see faster change and more separation between their motorized counterparts.
“I’m not putting myself in the position of an expert. Pathways is much more experienced as is the Town Council,” Garaman said. “But I think ideally you separate e-bikes from other bicycles and pedestrians by creating two separate paths. We’d be willing to create that for the Garaman path.”
Hoff endorses separating e-bikes from the others on the path.
“If it’s got a throttle, it belongs on the street,” Hoff said. “It’s crazy to me that you can be seven or eight years old and it’s OK to run a motorcycle down bike paths. You can cause just as much damage on a bicycle.”
Hoff cited regulations that the European Union has put on e-bikes, which vary by country.
For an e-bike rider in the EU to be exempt from registration and a driver’s license, the motor is only allowed as an assist to pedaling up to 15 mph.
In England e-bike riders must be 14 years old. In Belgium they must be 16.
Garaman said she’d like to see a requirement for e-bike users to put a license plate on their bike.
What about local bike shops? Should they take more responsibility for educating bike users?
Schilling said yes; one of his goals is to work with bike shops to make sure they’re educating visitors to Jackson on safe cycling etiquette. That conversation hasn’t been started yet, he confirmed, citing the effort needed.
Hoff acknowledged that yes, there’s more his own bike shop could be doing to pass along pertinent safety information to riders.
“We don’t drive home the ringing of your bell and stopping at stop signs, but we should,” Hoff said. “It’s a good thing to pass on to our customers.”
Law enforcement put the burden of responsibility on locals.
“If we can keep our long-term population educated, I’d say that’s the best way,” Officer Mattson said. “Then our visitors will emulate others’ behavior.”